Rachid Benzine, Islamologist: "The French who joined Daesh must return and be tried here"

The Islamologist Rachid Benzine (Kenitra, Morocco, 1971) went last week to the Casa Árabe in Madrid to give a talk entitled "Islam (s) and Muslims: misunderstandings and misunderstandings", and, within the framework of that event, ABC had the opportunity to talk with him. This scholar of Islam left his native Morocco when he was a child to settle with his family in France, in the town of Trappes, where he grew up and contemplated how some of the most radical versions of his religion took root, fanaticism that created the perfect breeding ground for the tragedy to happen. A total of 78 young people from that municipality were enrolled in the ranks of Daesh during the rise of the terrorist group in Syria and Iraq in recent years. Benzine was not satisfied with witnessing this drift and was interested in understanding it, approaching, from his liberal conception of the faith and his deep knowledge of the Qur'an and of the other essential texts for the Muslims, to the jihadist propaganda. As a result of his interviews with young people who had returned from the self-styled Islamic State, and who were in prison, he wrote "Nour, pourquoi je n'ai-rien vu come" (Seuil, 2016) ("Nour, why did not I see it? come? »), where he relates an imaginary exchange of letters between a father and his daughter, a girl who has joined the terrorists in Fallujah. The work was successful and attracted interest, and became a play, "Lettres à Nour" ("Letters to Nour"). In this interview, there was time to talk about it and also about other challenges faced by Islam in France, a country where 6 million Muslims live and in which Islamic terrorism has done damage that has seriously disturbed coexistence .

You are one of the representatives of the so-called liberal Islam. Can you explain to me what this reading of your religion consists of?

Liberal Islam tries to take into account the issues posed by modernity. At the same time, liberal Islam subjects the Koran and the tradition to a critical examination, especially through the human sciences, and proposes new readings. It is, in short, an Islam that values ​​human rights, equality between men and women, religious diversity and freedom of conscience. All the questions that are posed to a believer who wants to live his religion at the dawn of the 21st century.

How to read the sacred scriptures of Islam to reach a conception of religion of that type?

First, we must try to devote much work to the Koran, and especially to its first context. When you study history about the Koran, about that first moment called primitive Islam, you discover that it is a fuzzy period. The Koran is the first great Arabic text and to study that stage we only have that source. In addition, the entire Muslim tradition that refers to the Qur'an was elaborated two centuries later. It was Iraqi society, from Baghdad, responsible for doing so, from the year 750. However, according to Muslim tradition, the Koran was announced between 610 and 632. That is to say, between 632 and 750 we do not have much in what which refers to documents or literature. It is a total silence. Once we are aware of that, we can start working on the texts. It is a colossal job.

Macron has said several times that he wants to create a French Islam. However, the Islamologist Razika Adnani considers that such a project is a utopia, and that it is far from being "a solution for Salafism and Radicalism," as she has explained in several media. What do you think?

If we look at how Islam has developed historically, we see that the way of living religion in Pakistan, Senegal, Iran or Iraq is different. So it is not a utopia, because Islam as a religion is inscribed in a culture, and that culture interrogates Islam. It is a continuous dialectic. For example, the way of living Islam in Belgium is very different from that of France, because the principle of secularism does not exist in the first country. When Macron speaks of the Islam of France, he refers to the question of the organization of the cult. That is, the formation of the imams, which is very important, and the construction of mosques or pilgrimage. The question is how to institutionalize religion in order to obtain transparency, especially when it comes to financing. The president does not allude to a theological or religious change, because the State can not deal with these aspects.

As you have just pointed out, France is a secular country, with a law separating Church and State dating from 1905. Six million Muslims now live there. How can they be integrated and live in a country that has placed restrictions on religion?

The big problem with the organization of Islam is that its different tendencies find it difficult to dialogue among them. When people do not want to talk to each other, it is very difficult for them to organize. Despite the separation established in 1905, the State needs interlocutors for certain matters, such as ethics or the organization of worship. The question is what is the legitimacy of the interlocutors. I think that, instead of a national institution, we have to start from the local, from the departments, region by region, and then grow until we get an institution that is representative of all Muslims.

You were born in Morocco and then, when you were a child, you settled with your family in France. He grew up in Trappes, from where 78 people have left to join the ranks of Daesh. Many were young people who had been educated as French. How can you explain this phenomenon from your experience?

Trappes has a population of 32,000 inhabitants. There have been cases of young people who have been successful. But a group of them has gone to Syria. The number rises because they are often from the same family. In Trappes, there was an atmosphere that made something like this happen: immigration after the civil war in Algeria, the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists … When the exit to Syria was possible, some young people thought it was their chance to Live what they call "true Islam." They believed that in France you could not be a Muslim at all. And that's why they decided to leave.

I have worked on Daesh's speech, with its texts and videos. I also went to the prisons for a year and a half to interview with young people who had returned from Syria or Iraq. I think they were attracted to the four dreams or promises of Daesh. First, for the unity of the Muslim world, which was going to position itself against the West, recovering its old frontiers. Second, for the return of dignity. I have written a book called «Letters to Nour». It is an epistolary exchange between a father and his daughter, who has joined the terrorist group. There is a moment in which the girl says: "An injustice can be repaired, but a humiliation is never cured." Some young people felt that Daesh's speech restored their dignity and pride. The return to purity was the third promised dream. The captured ones thought that they had moved away of the authentic Islam, and considered that the Muslim governments were not in tune with the true religion. That desire for purity led to the desire for purification, so that violence became a moral act. Finally, Daesh's fourth dream was to make sense of their lives. They were given a kind of kit that contained a religious and political revolution.

In «Letters to Nour», the daughter who has joined Daesh writes this to her father: «I realize the futility and emptiness of my life before». There are authors who consider that terrorism derives from nihilism, or that there is a link. Do you agree?

No, jihadism is not nihilism. Jihadism is a revolutionary movement that wants to change the world. Most people who leave for Syria do not seek to die, but to live their own experience. When they join Daesh, they have the impression that they will participate in a revolution, and that their life will be useful.

You have interviewed young people who became terrorists and who have now returned to France. There is a debate about responsibilities, about who is to blame for something like this: the state, society, religion or the children themselves, irresponsible and inconsiderate with the country in which they have grown up. What do you think?

It's everyone's fault. Society has failed, because they are men and women who have grown up in it. That children of French society decided to go to a country at war means that we have collectively wrong something. I think it has to do with utopia, dreams and hope. Many young people doubt French society and its ability to offer them a decent life. In addition, it is also a failure of Islam. We have not known how to deactivate his deadly readings. Muslim leaders who have failed to confront the ideology of Daesh are responsible. Daesh is a type of Islam, and although it is not the one we know or the one we like, it is also part of this religion, which may have a violent version.

What did those young people with whom he interviewed tell him?

Almost everything I have written in "Letters to Nour" comes from what I have heard in prisons. There I have met brilliant people intellectually, people with studies who do not have psychological problems or difficulties to find their place in society. They have joined Daesh because it is an ideology that can seduce young people. Some do not regret having left at all, because they maintain that they were pushed by an ideal. There is not a single profile.

In another fragment of "Letters to Nour," the father reminds his daughter: "Do not make mistakes: freedom, democracy, the emancipation of peoples, go through education." In France, after the attacks against "Charlie Hebdo", there were high school kids who said that, after all, the cartoonists had "looked for a bit". What has happened to education? I know that there are conflictive neighborhoods where the work in the institutes is really hard.

Effectively. In neighborhoods where economic and social conditions are not perfect, where people live with many problems, national education can not do everything. In these neighborhoods, teachers are very dedicated and courageous, because it is much more difficult to teach in these centers than in middle class or bourgeois institutes. The problems are huge. There are many young people who do not control the language and who have psychological, economic or social difficulties. In addition, teens love provocation. After the attacks against «Charlie Hebdo», there were young people who said «I am not Charlie». As adults, we have to learn to deactivate that discourse, to work with them. There are parents who have lost their children in the Bataclan bombings and who go to institutes where those things have been said. When they tell their testimonies, the kids shut up. That's why I wrote "Letters to Nour", which mixes emotion and reason. The human being is not only rational. It is also emotional. If the two things are mixed, a message is better understood.

In France there is a debate about what should be done with the young people who joined Daesh and now want to return. The Interior Minister, Christophe Castaner, has made contradictory statements about it. What is your point of view?

I think our society has the capacity to receive them, so they should come back and be judged harshly, because if they serve their sentences there, we can not stop them from returning to France anyway. The emotional, which is the fear of the population, should not act on the political. (tagsToTranslate) interview (t) rashid (t) benzine (t) islam (t) france

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